Breaking News: Singh granted leave to appeal

The twitterverse has been alive this morning with the wonderful news that Simon Singh has been granted leave to appeal Justice Eady’s ruling in the libel case that the British Chiropractic Association had brought against the popular science author. See here and here for some background to the case.

The news is all the more wonderful because it was so unexpected. The first synopsis of this morning’s court ruling has appeared on arch-skeptic Crispian Jago’s excellent blog. He has done a great job of rendering the very brief legal proceedings in lay terms.

The news will also be a great boost for the Sense About Science campaign to Keep the Libel Laws out of Science

That’s all for now (work beckons). To keep abreast of developments and further blogs on this issue, follow the hashtag #singhBCA on Twitter.

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38 Responses to Breaking News: Singh granted leave to appeal

  1. Richard P. Grant says:


  2. Graham Steel says:

    Dude-tastic news…..

  3. Henry Gee says:

    What poor Simon must be going through …

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    What poor Simon must be going through…
    He seemed in reasonably robust spirits last night at the Westminster Skeptics in the Pub meeting but there’s no doubt it’s been a long road. And it isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. As he put it himself on Twitter this morning:
    “I am absolutely delighted at this morning’s result. Still a long way to go, but I’m definitely feeling more cheerful.”

  5. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Thanks for this info, Stephen. A ray of light…

  6. Austin Elliott says:

    And another tuppenceworth.

  7. Stephen Curry says:

    Great job Austin!
    Can I recommend that anyone interested follows his link (just above), which gives the best digest so far of the implications of this morning’s ruling. Things are looking a bit brighter for the freedom of scientific discourse.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    punches air
    Feck, YES!
    But my MP never replied to me. Useless goit.

  9. Stephen Curry says:

    From Crispian Jago – a YouTube video of Simon Singh’s reaction to the ruling…

  10. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Great! (You know, it still bugs me about the ‘bogus’ word…)
    By the way, it is my understanding that, if you write to your MP, he/she has to reply. So you’re totally entitled to prod ’em!

  11. Richard P. Grant says:

    Feh. Simon Hughes, I’m voting Tory next time.

  12. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Great news for everyone writing about science – and lack thereof.

  13. Austin Elliott says:

    And where there’s tuppenceworth, thruppenceworth sometimes follows…

  14. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks again Austin – very nice analysis of one of the key issues in this case. Let’s hope an analysis along those lines wins the day when the appeal and then the case are heard!
    I had meant to return to this myself this evening to amplify my brutally short summary but it isn’t going to happen now (too tired) and, in any case, several better-qualified bloggers (Austin included) have already got their acts together. One in particular that is insightful is Jack of Kent’s post on today’s ruling from earlier this evening. Very well worth a read.

  15. Stephen Curry says:

    Indeed it has been a good couple of days for freedom of speech and for the impact of Web2.0 – first with the Guardian’s to do with Trafigura and then today with the granting of leave to appeal to Simon Singh.
    At last night’s (inaugural) meeting of the Westminster Skeptics in the Pub:

    Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre (holding forth) and Nick Cohen at SITP Wesminster
    there was a strong sense that the online community was developing a sense of itself and its power to influence events and public debate.
    I smelled change.

  16. Stephen Curry says:

    In case you’re interested, the Skeptics meeting was features on BBC’s Newsnight last night, as part of a piece mainly devoted to the Guardian/Trafigura case (starts about 34 min in).
    Apologies for the string of comments but NN isn’t letting me include more than 2 hyperlinks per comment…!

  17. Matt Brown says:

    It’s skeptical about you, Stephen.

  18. Stephen Curry says:

    Har, har. Perhaps it is right to be so.
    I know there are major difficulties in dealing with spammers on NN and that you guys are working hard to make life easier for regular posters/commenters but this limitation is a pain in the arse, as Fr Jack would have it.

  19. Stephen Curry says:

    This just in: the British Chiropractic Association issued an interesting press release today and then revised it. According to the wise analysis of Jack of Kent, the first version (now stored on countless hard-drives across the world thanks to Twitter getting the word out so quickly) was potentially defamatory against Simon Singh since it claimed that he had “maliciously” attacked the organisation.
    This was a development that, as with the Spanish Inquisition, no-one expected.

  20. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Third paragraph: ‘_… to restore the good reputation of the BCA… _’

  21. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Second paragraph: ‘Dr. Singh has used this case as a platform to argue that science writers should be immune from the law of libel and be free to write what they please.
    Err, that’s not actually the case, is it? Of course, that might not be exactly what they meant…

  22. Stephen Curry says:

    You’re right Lee. The issue was — and still is — about the ability to conduct a robust debate in public about scientific and medical matters.
    It has been a very strange week, all in all.

  23. Austin Elliott says:

    The press release business is comedy gold – or at least it would be were it not for the fact that the preposterous English Law of Libel positively encourages such nonsense. More ranting here, and at greater length here.
    I wonder if the case will run much longer, as the BCA are making themselves ever more of a laughing stock with every twist of the plot. As Jack of Kent points out, Simon Singh could probably end the whole thing tomorrow by filing a defamation claim against the BCA over this latest shoots-self-in-foot moment; as it would be effectively indefensible (the BCA would have to prove “malice” on Singh’s part, essentially impossible), the only likely get-out for the BCA would be to drop their claim (“err.. we’ll drop ours if you drop yours”). I rather doubt Singh will do this, though, as all along he has insisted that the English Libel Law is a ludicrous instrument for seeking any kind of redress of statements one dislikes.
    Selfishly I would rather like to see the whole thing run and run, with the BCA dragging chiropractic, and “alternative medicine” in general, ever deeper into the mire – all to a general chorus of mirth and ridicule from sceptics, scientists and the media. But maybe that’s just me.

  24. Bob O'Hara says:

    Perhaps the BCA should ask Carter-Ruck to defend them.
    Hrm. Perhaps they have, but nobody’s allowed to say anything.

  25. Austin Elliott says:

    Peter Carter-Ruck himself is dead, Bob, as I’m sure you know… but I like your style.
    And of course Carter-Ruck’s firm and name live on. Incidentally, for those non Private Eye readers unfamiliar with the C-R name, there is a memoir from the Guardian here which is an, er, interesting read.
    Of course, the BCA would be spoiled for choice as there is no shortage (to put it mildly) of large and sabre-toothed “reputation management” law firms in London. Which in itself tells you something.

  26. Stephen Curry says:

    @Austin – wow, that Peter Carter-Ruck was a piece of work!
    Anyway, it has been really fascinating following the events of the past two days. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

  27. Lee Turnpenny says:

    Austin, it’s not just you. So long as it’s not stressful or costly to Simon Singh. I think I wrote somewhere before that this is a badge of honour for him. And it would serve to publicly illuminate many things about CAM and pseudoscience in general – a necessary thing.

  28. Ian Brooks says:

    \O/ indeed.

    The libel lawyer Peter Carter-Ruck, who died on Friday, had a chilling effect on the media. He was a chancer, out for the maximum fee. And he did for freedom of speech what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen.

    Bloody hell…

  29. Stephen Curry says:

    @ian – yes, quite an eye-opening article. Written by someone who had worked with him!
    @Austin – just so you know, there is a burgeoning campaign to get you to contribute your wisdom on Twitter…

  30. Austin Elliott says:

    H.L.Mencken on William Jennings Bryan routinely gets cited in polls of “most vicious obituary” – but the Guardian piece on Carter-Ruck, though not strictly speaking an obit, is in the same ballpark.
    Bryan, of course, was the prosecutor in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, whence Mencken’s ire was largely derived.
    Re. Twitter, I’m flattered, but I have slight “Cameronian misgivings”. Plus I am such an Olympic-standard procrastinator that I fear yet another way to while away time would reduce my “nominal real world productivity” to zero…
    Though if I thought it would get more people to read the blog then that might be a motivation..

  31. Austin Elliott says:

    PS Had previously written a bit more about Mencken on Bryan and related things, but I think it got spam-filtered for too many links.
    PPS For non-UK readers who didn’t get the “Cameronian” reference, you can see the video of the leader of our Conservative Party (that frightfully nicely-spoken Mr Cameron), offering his views on Twitter here.

  32. Stephen Curry says:

    Stop procrastinating Austin, and sign up! You’ll find an interested and switched-on community. Why on earth would you want to pay any attention to what David Cameron says or thinks?
    I’d say there’s every chance you may be able to attract more traffic to your excellent blog…!
    Speaking of which, not tempted to de-camp to NN?
    And finally, speaking of the Scopes trial – anyone seen the Old Vic production of Inherit the wind?

  33. Austin Elliott says:

    I don’t take much notice of “Call Me Dave”, Stephen. As you probably guessed I’m another of those dinosaur-type liberal lefties. I just worry people may get to thinking I like the sound of my own voice too much. Most of my family tell me this regularly already.
    Not really thought of moving the blog, as it fits well in the Bad Science stable. I did toy with the idea of having another one at NN for the marginally less splenetic, and perhaps shorter, stuff, but again it’s a question of time (and the frittering away of it!). The Univ is currently putting us all through yet ANOTHER “proto- REF ” exercise (called “Research Profiling” at our place, which for me conjures up visions of the FBI Behavioural Analysis profilers and their fictionalized TV versions). I somehow fear that blog posts (and even articles for things like my magazine Physiology News) are unlikely to weigh heavy in the balance of “high-quality peer-reviewed outputs”.

  34. Stephen Curry says:

    First thought: what blogger doesn’t like the sound of their own voice. For many that is their sole motivation! 😉
    Point taken on the Bad Science front and with respect to the potentially harmful impact of yet another round of university bean-counting. I guess we need @lorddrayson to move ahead swiftly with his idea about giving scientists credit for public engagement.

  35. Austin Elliott says:

    Yes, agree on the first point.
    Thinking about it, I reckon your University and mine might be the consensus choices for the two UK institutions that have, er, “embraced” internal research profiling exercises with the most fervour. Although perhaps NN readers can suggest other places with a similar level of enthusiasm. We have certainly had an annual one in my Faculty ever since I started two decades ago.
    I actually wrote something about “Who will do the engagement stuff?”, and when, more than 5 yrs ago for Physiology News (*warning* – 4 MB PDF, sorry), so change appears to be slow. Although I guess it is true to say that the main change since then (Summer 2004) is the availability of blogs as a new and direct way to reach an audience. Of course, if we are talking REF type things it is not exactly easy to measure the “Impact” of a blog.
    In my Phys News piece I said something about “academic posts in Science Communication”… when I said something similar in one of my earliest forays onto NN, Henry G sank his teeth very firmly into my leg!! But what I was really suggesting wasn’t more academics in “science communication studies”, which is what I think he thought I was saying; what I meant was more posts like the Charles Simonyi Professorship for actual scientists who communicate. Even maybe “engagement / communication sabbaticals”, for six months or a year. Personally I would happily do more of that sort of stuff than I currently do, but the credit issue is a very real one. So I hear what Drayson says, but to be honest I will believe it when I see it.

  36. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for the pdf Austin (4 MB is no problem after recent free upgrade to 10 Mbps!). Will have a read of it tomorrow. Time for bed now…

  37. Austin Elliott says:

    The article is only a page, but only the full issue (56 page) PDF is online. Keep meaning to chop out all my stuff from the back nos. and archive it on a blog/website somewhere. Wonder if I could get an undergrad student to do it as a final yr research project?
    I have resisted enabling mobile phone access to twitter, as that really would be the end of all semblance of actual working. Though I may have to activate it before the next Departmental staff meeting.

  38. Stephen Curry says:

    It’s an excellent piece Austin. I agree whole-heartedly that public engagement should be seen as a valued activity among academics. With the advent web 2.0 it is at least becoming easier to get the message out (in words, audio and video) but unless more credit is given for this sort of activity it will be difficult to overcome the inherent reluctance of many academics to get involved.
    And the point is well made that high-profile science projects (_i.e._ Apollo) can exert a powerful grip on young imaginations. Unfortunately, these aren’t too common. But to come back to the topic of this post, the publicity surrounding the SIngh case presents a good opportunity for showing people the importance and value of science to our society.

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